Malaco Records is an American independent record label based in Jackson, Mississippi that has been the home of various major blues and gospel acts, such as Johnnie Taylor, Bobby Bland, Z. Z. Hill, Denise LaSalle, Benny Latimore, Dorothy Moore, Little Milton, Shirley Brown, Marvin Sease, and the Mississippi Mass Choir. It has received an historic marker issued by the Mississippi Blues Commission to commemorate its important place on the Mississippi Blues Trail. A tornado on April 15, 2011, destroyed much of the company's main building and studio at 3023 West Northside Drive in Jackson, Mississippi, which have since been re-built.
Malaco (/ˈmæləkoʊ/ MAL-ə-koh) Records was founded in 1962 by Tommy Couch, Mitchell Malouf, and Wolf Stephenson, initially as a booking agency. In 1967, the company opened a recording studio in a building that remains the home of Malaco. Experimenting with local songwriters and artists, the company began producing master recordings. Malaco needed to license their early recordings with established labels for national distribution. Between 1968 and 1970, Capitol Records released six singles and a Grammy Award-nominated album by Mississippi Fred McDowell. Revenue from record releases was minimal, however, and Malaco survived doing jingles, booking bands, promoting concerts, and renting the studio for custom projects.
In May 1970, a bespectacled producer-arranger changed the struggling company's fortune. Wardell Quezergue made his mark with New Orleans stalwarts Fats Domino and Professor Longhair, among others. Quezergue offered to supply Malaco with artists in return for studio time and session musicians. Quezergue brought five artists to Jackson in a borrowed school bus for a marathon session that yielded two hits – King Floyd's "Groove Me" and Jean Knight's "Mr. Big Stuff." But the tracks met rejection when submitted to Stax and Atlantic Records for distribution. Frustrated, Malaco released the King Floyd tracks on its own Chimneyville label. When "Groove Me" started radio play and sales, Atlantic picked the record up for distribution after all, giving Malaco a label deal for future Chimneyville product. "Groove Me" entered the national charts in October, going to No. 1 on the US Billboard R&B chart and No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1971, Chimneyville scored again with King Floyd's "Baby Let Me Kiss You" (No.5 R&B and No. 29 Pop). Meanwhile, Stax decided to take a chance on "Mr. Big Stuff", selling over two million copies on the way to No. 1 on the R&B chart and No. 2 pop.
Malaco's studio and session musicians were now in demand. Drummer James Stroud and Malaco Rhythm Section played for Malaco records. And Atlantic sent the Pointer Sisters among others for the Malaco touch; Stax sent Rufus Thomas and others. And, in January 1973, Paul Simon recorded material for his There Goes Rhymin' Simon album. Later that year, Malaco released its first gospel record, "Gospel Train" by the Golden Nuggets. Also in 1973, King Floyd's "Woman Don't Go Astray" made No. 5 R&B.
When Dorothy Moore recorded "Misty Blue" in 1973, Malaco got stacks of rejection slips trying to shop the master to other labels. Two years later, Malaco was broke and desperate for something to sell. With just enough cash to press and mail out the record, "Misty Blue" was released on the Malaco label just before Thanksgiving.
Dorothy Moore's "Misty Blue" earned gold records around the world, peaking at No. 2 R&B and No. 3 pop in the USA, and No. 5 in the UK Singles Chart in 1976. This was followed by thirteen chart records. Moore got four Grammy nominations in her career . And funk bands such as Freedom, Natural High, Power, and Sho-Nuff released funky albums also.
Another Malaco gamble in late 1970s was targeting the gospel market again with The Jackson Southernaires. The gamble paid off, and other premium gospel artists signed on, including the Soul Stirrers, The Sensational Nightingales, The Williams Brothers, The Truthettes, and The Angelic Gospel Singers, to name a few. The Southernaires's Frank Williams became Malaco's Director of Gospel Operations, producing virtually every Malaco gospel release until his untimely death in 1993. By 1977, songwriters, artists, and producers from the defunct Stax Records were knocking on Malaco's doors, including Eddie Floyd, Frederick Knight, The Fiestas, and David Porter.
By this time, Malaco had stopped trying to compete with mainstream labels. However, Malaco could make a tidy profit selling 25,000– 50,000 units. Starting with Z. Z. Hill, Malaco became the center for old-time blues and soul. He released single "Cheating in the Next Room" reached R&B No. 19 in 1982. Hill's second album, Down Home Blues, sold 500,000 copies. Hill became a blues superstar before he suddenly died in 1984. Hearing Johnnie Taylor sing at the funeral service, Tommy Couch invited Taylor to become Malaco's new flagship artist.
Denise LaSalle charted fourteen times in the 1970s. After 29 chart entries for other labels, blues guitarist Little Milton signed with Malaco in 1984. Little Milton's first Malaco single "The Blues is Alright" re-established his presence as a major blues artist and solidified Malaco's reputation as the contemporary southern blues company.
In 1979, Tommy Couch opened a second Malaco studio, after buying the famed Muscle Shoals Sound Studios which by that time was located at 1000 Alabama Avenue in Sheffield, Alabama. In 2005, Couch decided to close this studio because he was having difficulty competing with more technologically advanced studios. The building was bought by a film and television production company.
In 1985, Malaco signed Bobby Blue Bland. He had notched up 62 Billboard R&B chart records in 25 years, though few of them made an impression on pop radio. In 1999, the label signed top Chicago-based soul and blues singer, Tyrone Davis to the label, about 30 years after his first major hit "Can I Change My Mind", an R&B No. 1.
On April 15, 2011, the company's Jackson studio and offices were hit by a tornado that caused major damage and destruction. Thousands of master tapes from recording sessions survived intact in a separate concrete vault. The company decided to re-build the damaged offices and recording studio on the same site and the new buildings were opened in the fall of 2012. This storm came six years after Hurricane Katrina also hit the area, causing some damage to the Malaco premises.
Clearly the dominant contemporary southern blues label, Malaco purchased the gospel division of Savoy Records in 1986. Now, Malaco was also the preeminent black gospel company in North America. The Savoy acquisition brought a vast catalog of classic recordings dating back decades, including albums by Shirley Caesar, Rev. James Cleveland, Albertina Walker, The Caravans, and Inez Andrews. In further expansion moves that year, Malaco entered the world of telemarketing. Malaco's gospel labels under Jerry Mannery and Savoy Records under Milton Biggham earned multiple honors, including Billboard designations as Top Gospel Label and Top Gospel Distributor, while the artists received numerous awards (Grammy, Stellar, Soul Train, and Gospel Music Workshop), as well as Billboard Top Gospel Artist of the Year designations. The company also dominated Billboard Gospel charts, achieving No. 1 rankings by Keith Pringle, Walter Hawkins, Rev. James Moore, The Mississippi Mass Choir, and Dorothy Norwood.
Malaco's market focus widened dramatically in 1995. Songwriter/producer Rich Cason cut "Good Love" with Johnnie Taylor. The Good Love album soared to No. 1 on Billboard's blues charts and No. 15 R&B, becoming the biggest record in Malaco's history.
In 1997, Malaco found itself without a distribution deal and formed Malaco Music Group, which consists of Malaco Records and its subsidiaries. The company continued its steady, prudent expansion, purchasing half of the Memphis-based distributor Select-O-Hits and also making inroads into the urban contemporary, jazz, and contemporary Christian markets.
Malaco Records has been designated as a marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail.601 Music
Muscle Shoals Records
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